Ten 3D Printing Startups That Took Funding in 2019
It’s that time of year again where we talk about how disappointed we are with the poor performance of the current crop of 3D printing stocks, pinning our hopes on the next generation of 3D printing startups to fulfill the promise of the much-hyped technology. The latest publicly traded 3D printing company, SmileDirectClub (SDC), cut its teeth on selling invisible plastic aligners to give people the perfect smile. No one who bought the company’s stock after it debuted in September at a valuation of $8.9 billion is smiling now. Its current market cap is now below $4 billion, and while revenue is up, net losses are way, way up.
We’ll leave it to other analysts to chew over the strategy of a company whose entire business model is based on helping people straighten their teeth using 3D-printed aligners. After all, there are only so many people in England. And if you thought the taxi drivers who beat the crap out of Uber drivers for invading their turf were bad, just see what happens after you threaten an orthodontist’s ability to vacation in the Hamptons. One final comment, as we segue into the list of the startups that took the most funding in 2019: Many of these companies are targeting their own 3D printing technology on dentistry.
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But, of course, there’s a lot more to this group than teeth alignment. We have become quite familiar with the top three-funded startups on this list, but the rest are completely new to us. While most are developing their own 3D printing hardware, some are focused solely on 3D printing software or on-demand manufacturing. The latter is making a strong economic argument for the long-term viability of 3D printing outside of prototyping and other niche applications. Another interesting trend is the number of China-based 3D printing startups on this year’s list, as the Chinese attempt to kick America’s ass in yet another major tech industry.
The Big Three 3D Printing Startups
However, this year’s top trio are all made in America.
Silicon Valley-based Carbon, absent from last year’s list, took in a $260 million Series E last June. The first 3D printing unicorn, Carbon has amassed $682 million in funding and topped the funding list in 2017 and 2016. Total valuation is $2.4 billion, with a list of more than 20 investors that reads like an all-star lineup: Google (GOOGL), Nike (NKE), BMW (BMW), Sequoia Capital, GE (GE), Autodesk (ADSK), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and Fidelity, among others. They are hoping that the seven-year-old company’s ground-breaking Digital Light Synthesis will be a game-changer in 3D printing speed.
We recently interviewed Desktop Metal CTO Jonah Myerberg for a profile on the company, which started the year with a $160 million Series E, bringing total funding to $436.8 million. The Boston area startup also has a marquee roster of names behind its $1.5 billion valuation, including Google, Ford Motor Company (F), BMW, Saudi Aramco (ARAMCO), and Koch Industries. Founded in 2015, Desktop Metal has been on this list every year since 2016, and it’s arguably the leading 3D metal printing company around.
We say arguably, because there’s another Boston area startup founded two years earlier, Markforged, that’s been forging its own way into the 3D metal printing industry. Not to mention the fact that the two companies are once again locked in legal combat. So good thing Markforged raised $82 million last March, with a war chest now tipping the scales at $136.8 million. Most of Markforged’s investors come from the VC side of the aisle, though Porsche was among the names of the most recent Series D. While Desktop Metal is just now beginning to push into composite 3D printing, Markforged actually began with composite materials but started developing 3D metal printers a few years ago.
Now let’s talk about the fresh meat.
Made in China
As we mentioned, China is well represented in the class of 2019, with three startups taking in sizable funding rounds.
Topping this list is Guangzhou-based HeyGears, which was founded in 2015 and has raised a total of $106.9 million. It added $60 million in a Series B just last month, with all of the money coming from a United Arab Emirates AI and cloud computing company called Group 42. Not surprisingly, HeyGears emphasizes the role algorithms play in its 3D printing technology, which is based on using a traditional digital light projector (DLP) as the light source for curing photo-reactive polymers. HeyGears claims that by having algorithms analyze past printing parameters in real time through a technological collaboration with Alibaba Cloud called H.AI, it can boost printing speeds by 40% compared to traditional DLP tech.
Beijing-based LuxCreo acquired most of its $37.4 million in disclosed funding from a $30 million Series B in August led by VC firm Kleiner Perkins. Founded just three years ago, the company makes some big claims about its DLP-based 3D printing technology, including that it is capable of printing speeds 100x faster than traditional 3D printers, with quality exceeding that of traditional mass manufacturing. The technological leap is called Light Enabled Additive Production (LEAP). The company’s website is short on details, aside from saying that LEAP takes a bottom-up approach to curing each print job at a speed of nearly four feet per hour. Here’s an illustration from an unemployed IKEA graphic artist to give you the visual:
And then there’s Xunshi Technology. Or maybe it’s Soonsolid or possibly even SprintRay. Whatever it’s called, the Hangzhou-based startup was founded in 2013 and has raised $14.4 million from a Series B in October. The company produces a series of desktop printers for specific applications like dentistry and jewelry, as well as industrial DLP printers and stereolithography (SLA) printers that use lasers to cure the polymer material. The company is reportedly working on new materials applications with BASF 3D Printing Solutions, a subsidiary of Germany’s BASF (BAS), one of the world’s largest chemicals producer.
Also as we mentioned earlier, additive manufacturing is becoming a viable service industry. Founded in 2014, Chicago-based Fast Radius got a $48 million boost of confidence last April led by UPS, bringing total funding to $67.3 million. UPS has also partnered with Fast radius to build a manufacturing facility at the global courier’s hub in Louisville, Kentucky, allowing it to ship parts immediately. Fast Radius offers a range of 3D printers, including Carbon’s DLS printers. Meanwhile, Fast Radius has also partnered with Desktop Metal and will be one of the first customers to receive the Production System from the metal 3D printer company. While the startup emphasizes its 3D printing services, it also does more traditional manufacturing such as inject molding and machining.
3D Printing for Construction
There have been a few companies emerging in the construction 3D printing space, as part of a larger trend in robotic construction. There’s not much info yet about stealthy Silicon Valley startup Mighty Buildings except that it has raised $36 million since it was founded in 2017, including a $26 million Series A last August that included high-profile VC firm Khosla Ventures. The company’s website has zero information, with Khosla Ventures spouting the usual generic verbiage about “disruption of the construction industry” using “3D printing tech and composite materials.”
3D Printing for Prosthetics
We wrote an article recently about materials innovation and profiled a company doing 3D printing for prosthetics. That application is also one of the key markets for a Texas startup called Essentium, which raised $22.2 million a year ago, with BASF appearing as one of its investors. Essentium’s flagship machine, the HSE 180•S, is a high-speed extrusion 3D printing platform that the company claims is 5 to 15 times faster than the competition, producing products with the strength of injected molded parts. That’s not something you normally get with that kind of printing process where the filament material is “squeezed” out and cured in layers.
The secret behind the magic is called FlashFuse, a two-part electric welding solution that employs nanomaterial technology and plasma to fuse the individual layers in a printed part.
Design Software for 3D Printing
Finally, there’s New York-based nTopology, which specializes in design software for digital manufacturing in 3D printing. Founded in 2015, the startup has raised $27.6 million to continue to build out its nTop Platform, a computational-modeling software that allows engineers to “simultaneously consider geometry, performance and manufacturability all within a single, reusable workflow.” It’s all about the speed and power of automation, which nTopology says can help users shave hours, days, or weeks off of a job.
For instance, a Michigan manufacturer of small unmanned aerial vehicles wanted to use the platform to figure out a way to build lighter, more efficient engines to decrease drag on its aircraft. The nTop platform led the company to change the engine design, above, by using an internal lattice structure that could be 3D printed.
What should we expect in the coming year in 3D printing technology? We’ll probably see even more companies bite at some of the low-hanging fruit out there in applications like dentistry and podiatry. At the same time, expect to witness the ongoing development of faster, more efficient printers that can handle bigger and bigger print jobs, with the United States and China continuing to lead the way in additive manufacturing.